For any change to be successful, discipline is required. Merriam-Webster defines discipline as “control gained by enforcing obedience or a prescribed conduct or pattern of behavior.” Discipline is not something we choose. It is developed by repeating a pattern of behavior.
To reinforce this concept, Dr. John Townsend uses the example of a child who cannot stay focused on homework more than a few minutes at a time. With help and guidance from parents, enforcement of rules to complete homework in a timely manner, and the appropriate consequences and rewards, the child develops discipline to progressively increase the time and focus required to complete homework. A homework session that lasted only ten minutes at the age of six could be an “all-nighter” at the age of twenty.
Where discipline is lacking, entitlement mentality is usually to blame. Entitlement thinking reinforces the idea that hard work, behavioral changes, and patience are of no value when reality is success can only be achieved with a combination of determination and discipline.
Entitlement thinking fosters the belief that discipline is a choice, and if it’s a choice, it doesn’t require a long-term investment. Actually, discipline requires repeated application of self-control. To use self-control is a choice, but to be disciplined requires choosing self-control over and over again until it becomes a habit.
To develop self-control, there needs to be a worthwhile goal and the internal and external structures to meet it. If achieving something really matters, there is a greater chance of reaching the goal. Reaching the goal requires focus, perseverance, and the ability to delay gratification. The combination of these requirements comprise what psychologists define as internal structure. Self-control cannot exist in the absence of internal structure.
To grow a strong internal structure, an external structure, or accountability plan, is helpful. For example, to achieve a financial goal, an external structure may include a budget. To achieve a weight loss goal, an external structure may take the form of a diet and exercise routine. An effective external structure will include time frames for achieving milestones and an appropriate reward system to stay motivated and maintain focus.
In addition to having an accountability plan, it is essential to have the right support. Support can come from many sources, but to be effective, it should come from relationships with people who refrain from judgment, provide timely encouragement, sympathize with the struggles of meeting the desired goal, and contribute expertise. Expertise can come in the form of knowledge or training such as: career advice for job goals, nutrition knowledge for weight-loss goals, or finance tips for monetary goals.
During the discipline development process, it’s important to beware of common pitfalls including isolation, challenges, extremism, negative self-judgment, and weaknesses. Relational support is critical; developing discipline is difficult or impossible to do alone. There will always be challenges outside of meeting the desired goal. Expect them and don’t use them as an excuse for a lack of progress. Taking an extreme “all or nothing” approach will lead to failure. Long-term change requires more stamina than speed. Don’t let negative self-talk derail progress. Use the support team to honestly assess failures. Know your weaknesses! Understanding where you struggle (e.g. impatience, easily distracted, prone to becoming overwhelmed) will help you to identify potential barriers to meeting goals. These can be addressed in the accountability plan and flagged by the support group to promote awareness and take the necessary remedial action.
Though motivation and discipline are critical to combatting entitlement mentality, more is required. The next blog in this entitlement series will discuss the importance of self-image and personal responsibility.
©Room2GrowGarden.com, May 4, 2018
J. Townsend, The Entitlement Cure Finding Success In Doing Hard Things The Right Way, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2015. pp. 107-123.